Friday, November 27, 2015

The Fatal Tree (a book review post)

As I think I've mentioned before, Stephen Lawhead is one of my favorite (living) authors. He's one of the few authors whose books I will just pick up automatically when they're released. The problem with Lawhead, though, is that he frequesntly has a problem with endings, especially endings of series. The Fatal Tree proves to be one of those ending failures, and it's unfortunate that such a strong story had to end with a face plant.

The first problem with the book is, as it turns out, the conflict is "cosmic" in nature. As revealed at the end of the previous book, The Shadow Lamp, the end of the universe is coming. As I mentioned in my review of The Shadow Lamp, this is an issue because it changes the focus of the series. We believe during the first three books and most of the way through the fourth that conflict is with Burleigh, but, suddenly, no, although Burleigh is a bad guy, he is not the bad guy. He is not the antagonist.

In fact, there is no real antagonist, not at that point, just an event that previously happened that, now, needs to be prevented. Remember the part in one of my previous reviews where I said this isn't a time travel story? Well, it's still not, but they still have to figure out a way to prevent something from happening that already happened. Except they don't really know that.

Actually, the major issue with this book is that the catastrophic event that was only discovered as a possibility at the end of book four is just suddenly happening. It's like if you were making tea: You put your water in your tea kettle, you turn on the burner on the stove, you set the kettle on the burner... You expect to need to have to wait for the water to heat up before you can make your tea, right? But not in this book. Instead, as soon as you set the kettle down, not only does the water start to boil, it explodes into steam. The sudden shift from trying to find the skin map to the universe could be in danger to THE UNIVERSE IS IMPLODING RIGHT NOW! was unenjoyable to say the least.

And, then, what do you do about the universe imploding? Absolutely nothing, that's what. It's kind of like standing in front of a tsunami and trying to stop it by holding up your hands. But Kit and his gang (because Kit has somehow become the leader) decide they're going to stop it. So they spend a lot of time talking about it and doing not much and never figure anything out.

The other issue, from a plot stand point, is the tree. The fatal tree. The fatal tree that, really, has nothing to do with anything. It's just there. There's a whole book, basically, devoted to this tree, and it doesn't really mean anything or have to do with anything. That was annoying.

Then there's Burleigh...

So, look, Lawhead writes Christian-themed books. I get that. As a Christian, I appreciate his general subtle application of Christianity into his stories. But not this time. Because Burleigh, as it turns out, isn't really our bad guy, he needs to have a conversion experience, which would be fine, except... Except that Lawhead spends chapters and chapters dealing with Burleigh and his descent into self-loathing so that he can finally come to understand that he's powerless on his own and does, yes, need God. This is all handled more like someone with an addiction needing to hit bottom to know that he needs help rather than someone coming to understand that it's grace that is needed. Also, it goes on way too long. In detail. It's tiring.

Basically, I was very dissatisfied with the book and how it ended the series. Too many things happen for no real reason other than that the author needed them to happen so he made them happen. There's no explanation or rational or anything. I'm sorry, but you don't write a whole book about a tree that just happened to be there and has no other purpose than that it happened to be there. Also, you don't have the "heroes" essentially save the universe on accident, even if that's what they wanted to do. I can't say the series, overall, was a waste of time (because books two, three and four were really very good), but I might have been more satisfied if I had never read this one and just wondered what happened.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Senate Spy" (Ep. 2.4)

-- A true heart should never be doubted.

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This is an episode with, kind of, a deliberately misleading title. I'm not going to explain that more than to say it; if you want to know what I mean, you should watch the episode. It's a stand alone, so you can get away with that even if you haven't been watching the series.

However, it isn't the story that interests me about this episode, though the story is fine. Good even. No, what interests me is the continued exploration of Anakin and his attachment issues.

I suppose it might not be entirely clear why the Jedi are not allowed to have attachments, at least from the prospective of the movies. I mean, it's never stated why Jedi are not supposed to own things or form romantic entanglements or, well, have children. Because it seems like having Jedi have children would be the thing to do if you wanted more Jedi children, right? So the underlying reason for the "no attachments" rule is never given. Anywhere. But The Clone Wars gives us plenty of examples, through Anakin, of the issues that arise from having attachments, everything from disobeying orders to retrieve some personal object, to making some one person a priority over completing a mission, to, well, jealousy.

And that's the real issue: Attachments open the Jedi to the negative emotions that lead to the Dark Side of the Force. And that's what's explored in this episode: Anakin's jealousy over a previous lover of Padme's.

So, yeah, the story of the "Senate Spy" is fine. It's good. But it's Anakin's jealousy and his anger and attempt to control Padme's actions because of those things that make the story of real interest.

And, actually, importance.

It's these episodes where we can see Anakin's slide to the Dark Side and that it wasn't some sudden change during Revenge of the Sith.

Also, we get to see, again, a glimmer of Obi-Wan's suspicions about Anakin and Padme, which is good. I mean, it's good that we get to see that he had suspicions, because it's a bit much to believe that Obi-Wan, of all people, had no idea what was going on.